I’m a big fan of Aussa of Hacker, Ninja, Hooker, Spy. I have a little bit of a girl crush on her – because she is gorgeous, funny, adventurous, and a great writer. I was surprised and a bit disappointed the other day when I went to her site and found that she had a guest blogger – but that only lasted until I actually read the post by Angelle of She Drives A Vegetable Car. Despite the fact that she doesn’t like cilantro, she’s good people and also a very entertaining writer.Angelle told a story about an awkward encounter she had with a celebrity – and that got me to thinking about the various celebs I encountered during the time I worked in radio. Unfortunately, though I tried hard to be smooth and professional, most of those encounters WERE awkward and/or humiliating – and the one I can’t seem to forget, no matter how hard I try, is the time I said, “Oh, crap!” to Barry Manilow.If this was a television show, this would be about the time the picture started getting wavy around the edges and that “let’s go back in time” music started up so that I could share my memory – so feel free to get that music in your head and squint your eyes a little bit until things are blurry in order to get in the flashback mindset. Ready? Here we go….it was September 17, 1981 and I was working mid-days at the coolest top-40 radio station in all of Utah – K-96. Barry Manilow, who was VERY popular at the time, was coming to town to do a sold out concert and my radio station had put together a ticket and back stage pass giveaway. On this particular day, Barry had called into the radio station so that we could conference in the winners to give them the good news.
Barry and I chatted for a bit as we waited for the current song to end. I had already called each of the four winners under the pretext of having a question about their entry and I had them on hold on different lines. The plan was for me to flip the switch to conference them in on the call, one at a time, and Barry would greet them, drop the bombshell, and chat with them for a bit before we moved onto the next winner. Things were going great – the winners were gloriously shocked and ecstatic when Barry Manilow HIMSELF told them that they were going to see his show and meet him in person. Barry was personable and engaging, chatting with each winner in a friendly way and asking questions about themselves and their families. Yes, things were going terrific…until we got to the fourth and final winner.
By this time, I was feeling pretty confident and self-assured. I told Barry the name of the winner and flipped the switch to bring her online…and suddenly I couldn’t hear ANYTHING. I called the winner’s name, hoping that she was just shy – but I got no response – and I wasn’t hearing Barry either! My heart dropped – I was sure that somehow, I had hung up on both Barry AND the winner! I flipped the switch again and heard Barry speaking, mid-sentence. I was SO relieved and exclaimed, “Oh good, I have you back!” There was a pause and then Barry said, “Hey, I was talking to the winner! What did you do?” I explained that we were having a tiny technical issue, but that I would try again – and I flipped the switch once more…and once more, I lost Barry.
By this time, I was in a panic. I had the dreaded DEAD AIR while Barry and the winner had their private conversation. My boss was looking through the studio window with his eyebrows raised and his hands in the “What the fuck?” position. I quickly flipped the switch again, hoping against hope that both Barry and the winner would be there – but all I got was Barry, who by this time was getting pissed off at me. “You need to quit doing that!” He said, “We were having a conversation!” I was mortified and frustrated, and responded, “Oh, CRAP! This was LIVE RADIO, folks – no rehearsal, no seven-second delay button – and we were in Mormon country, where “Crap” was a four-letter word in its own right. I finished up the segment with as much dignity as I could muster. I told Barry that the winners and I would see him after his show that night and I quickly flipped the switch again so that Barry could privately finish his conversation with the winner while I started up the latest Manilow song for my listeners (however few there were left after that fiasco).
I wish I could say that was the worst of the experience with Barry Manilow – but I can’t. Before I left for the show that night, the station promotion’s director came up to me and pulled me into an empty room. He looked both ways like we were on some sort of spy mission, and then quietly told me the name of Barry Manilow’s manager. He explained that the listeners would meet me at the stage after the show and that I was to ask for Barry’s manager, who then would escort us all backstage to meet the man in person. He also sternly told me that this was PRIVILEGED information – not to be shared with ANYONE ELSE at the radio station. I nodded – the information was safe with me!
At the concert that night, one of the station’s advertising sales executives sat next to me. He grinned at me in a conspiratorial fashion and asked if I had met Joe Schmuckatelly yet. I was confused and it must have shown in my eyes, because he said, “Joe Schmuckatelly! Barry Manilow’s manager!” I superiorly told him that I could see through his ruse. I knew he was trying to get me to tell him Barry Manilow’s manager’s REAL name by giving me the WRONG name in hopes I would correct him. I told him his weak attempts to get information from me would not work – I wouldn’t give up the goods. He gave me a “Bitch, you crazy!” look – but I didn’t let that sway me either!
Barry’s concert that night was fantastic and after he took his final bow, I made my way to the stage, meeting the contest winners. I cornered one of the stage hands and gave him the secret name, telling him that we were expected. He looked at me blankly, so I told him the name again and this time he said he would go backstage to ask. He was gone a long time – and the winners were starting to get restless. Finally, after about 20 minutes, he returned, telling me he could find no one with that name. The winners were now getting hostile looks in their eyes and I started to feel a bit desperate. I raised my voice and said the secret name again, adding…”You know, Barry Manilow’s MANAGER!” The stage hand said, “You mean Joe Schmuckatelly???” Now obviously, that is not really Barry Manilow’s manager’s name – but I can’t remember it any better now than I could that night. It turns out that the sales exec had the name right all along and, with my crappy memory and my superiority complex, I was SURE it was another name – a name that only I knew.
The stage hand hurried backstage to find Mr. Schmuckatelly – only to return a few minutes later to let me know that Mr. Manilow and his manager had waited for fifteen minutes and when we hadn’t appeared, they figured plans had changed and they had left for their hotel. The winner’s overheard this and their reaction ranged from furious to heartbroken sobbing. My repeated apologies did nothing to pacify or console them and the next day, my boss’s reaction wasn’t any easier to take. That wasn’t the last time I screwed up a radio promotion…and certainly not the last time I forgot a name (sometime I’ll have to tell you about the one where I was at a job interview with a CEO of a hospital – and called him by another one of my made-up names. Spoiler alert – I didn’t get that particular job).